Editor’s note: School News Network reporter Alexis Stark, a graduate of Michigan State University, offers this personal reflection on the mass shooting at MSU on Monday, Feb. 13.
As a 2018 Spartan graduate and former reporter for The State News, an award-winning student-run media organization, Michigan State University served as my home away from home for three and a half years. Moving an hour away from my childhood home is still one of the hardest things I’ve done.
A second-floor dorm room in Snyder-Phillips Hall, one of the oldest buildings on campus, became like home: a place I returned to after classes and decorated for Christmas; a place where I frequently napped and found refuge to cry with my roommate after my first break-up.
With my favorite dining hall right downstairs and my Residential College in the Arts and Humanities classes down the hall, yes, I felt very much at home.
Then, on the night of the shooting, Feb. 13, student reporters for The State News published an article that read: “Shots were reported fired at Berkey, Hubbard, East McDonel, Akers, Bessey, Wonders and Phillips Halls, the Union and IM East. Brody Hall, Snyder and Phillips Hall, Mason Hall, Abbott Hall, Landon Hall, Berkey Hall and the MSU Union have all been secured by MSU Police.”
Snyder and Phillips Hall. My home.
That same night, I received a text: “Hey, did you hear there is an active shooter at MSU right now?” At first, I did not feel surprised. MSU has seen its share of violence and scandal. The text continued: “Someone died.” My thoughts raced. A shooting … at a school … my school. A mass shooting was happening at my school, my home.
The weight of the situation didn’t fully sink in until the next day. I saw my school on the news and in my social media feed, just like after the Oxford High School shooting, 30 miles from my hometown and high school in Farmington.
‘Why should young people, the ones working tirelessly to leave the world better than they found it, take bullets because lawmakers and policy changers refuse to value human life over their politics?’
As a female student, sexual assault was high on my list of things to fear on campus. On a tour as an incoming freshman, our guide told us and our families to look for the green emergency posts around campus. They said if you find one, look around and you’ll be able to see another from where you stand.
“Campus safety is our priority” was spoken in the same sentence that advised females not to walk alone at night. I maintained a heightened awareness and refused to let fear color my college experience. I was lucky.
This mass shooting colored green and white Spartans around the world red.
Not red like Valentine’s Day roses and cut-out cards.
Red like blood-stained sidewalks and backpacks; red like the “disconnect” button family and friends of victims hit on their phones to end the worst call.
Red like the light on doors in dorms signaling “locked but still not safe enough to keep danger out.”
I cannot imagine how students will feel safe again returning to campus. First, a global pandemic sends classes online and closes off communal spaces. Now, inevitably, campus and building security will increase just to enter your dorm or get late-night cheesy breadsticks and fries at The Union. The sense of comfort and security at school, senselessly stripped away.
Mass Violence Pierces ‘the Bubble’
Working in elementary, middle and high schools for School News Network, I constantly worry about school shootings, a disgusting norm in the United States — including the Parkland, Florida massacre five years ago this week. I never translated that threat to college campuses, especially one that operates like a mini-city surrounded by East Lansing and farmlands.
Living on campus felt like living in a bubble between being a kid and growing into adults, safe from real-world responsibilities while we had the privilege to learn. College students’ only worries should be making it to class, making lifelong friends and drinking enough water.
The day after the shooting, Dylan Miner, the dean of Residential College in the Arts and Humanities, my alma mater, wrote in an email to college students and alumni: “I am struck by the inadequacy of ‘thoughts and prayers’ to express the emotional turbulence that one has on a day like this. We must act … and individually and collectively heal in times of crisis.”
Like many, I feel numb to it all, a learned trauma response. I feel helpless and hopeless, despite feeling #SpartanStrong. I am a journalist, not a legislator; I wield quotes and commas, but we need stronger forces of change.
Youth Take Bullets While Policy Makers Argue
Guns are undoubtedly divisive. Gun control advocates are rocks pushing against those protecting their right to bear arms, the hard place. While those forces shove back and forth, students continue to die.
Firearm related deaths are now the leading cause of death among U.S. children and adolescents in the U.S., according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet many adults are conditioned to believe the world is unsafe and they need guns to protect themselves.
‘I cannot imagine how students will feel safe again returning to campus. … The sense of comfort and security at school, senselessly stripped away.’
How can we disrupt the cycle of violence without violating human rights? We cannot deconstruct the culture of “entitlement to freedom” the U.S. built itself on overnight, but three more students are dead.
Why should young people, the ones working tirelessly to leave the world better than they found it, take bullets because lawmakers and policy changers refuse to value human life over their politics?
We continue to pray, grieve and hope for change, but still fear sending children to school. School should feel safe, a home away from home, with no place for violence.